“Don’t get too far ahead of yourself, because if you’re always looking at the next thing, you’ll never be happy in your current role.” – James Hodgson
QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.
Scroll below for show notes, transcript and links…
[00:35] James route into teaching.
[08:36] James route to middle management
[10:11] Enjoying Senior Leadership and never planning for it.
[11.31] Who moulded James SLT path
[14:17] Going into SLT with your eyes open!
[16:36] Initiatives in school Digitally preparing pupils for the working world, Partnerships with local schools, charities and business, Entrapreunerialism in school
[29:13] Movember at Bedford School
Lee Stanley 0:06
Hello, and welcome to Hadfield Education’s good to great educational webinar series where I interview the leading had teachers within the UK education system. Today I’m joined by James Hudson, who’s the head teacher at Bedford School. Good morning, James, how are you?
James Hodgson 0:24
Really well, thanks, Lee, thank you very much for having me on.
Lee Stanley 0:27
No, no problem. And so James, I always like to start by finding out about how you got into into teaching. So where did it all begin?
James Hodgson 0:35
It began it probably began at school, actually, I was I was very lucky at school to be a border at an independent school that offered me an enormous amount of opportunity, both inside the classroom but particularly outside the classroom, and I always wanted to be a professional cricketer. And so the next stage of that particular journey was when I was 19. And I found out that I wasn’t going to be quite good. enough to be a professional cricketer, which left some thinking to do for the next few years, whilst I was at university, and part of that thinking revolved around what I enjoy doing myself and, and trying to find an environment where I could pursue the sorts of things that I really enjoyed doing, but also make a difference to other people’s lives along the way. So I sort of built this idea around, going back into schools where I could help with not only the subject that I was teaching, and the sport that I enjoyed, and the boarding which I also very much enjoyed, but could look at helping children all around education. So it’s, it’s kind of underpinned what I what I try to do now and look at look at the whole child rather than just part of a child and everything that I do. And I didn’t want to go back into school straight after university because I thought personally, that would be too narrow, I did want to do something completely different to begin with. So when I got to the end of university, I went to work for Ernst and Young in London as a trainee auditor. I did that for two years, I had it in my mind that I’d do that for six or seven years first, but I spent two years getting out of bed every morning and not wanting to go to work. And that was pretty miserable actually. And at the end of two years, I thought I’ve had enough of this and went off up to Cambridge, very short notice to PGCE had a great year there played lots of cricket scratch that sort of first class cricket Ah, which I’d had for a long time anyway because I used to play against all the counties and then went off and taught classics in Sydney in Australia for six years. So So I had a very lucky lucky few years if you like I don’t regret the Ernst and Young bit at all. I think it was very important for me to have seen something with the outside world. But But two years was plenty
Lee Stanley 3:00
So would you say that that insight, it rounded you in terms of your your teaching, and in particular, your initial teaching,
James Hodgson 3:07
I think it helps to have an understanding of where the children that I was teaching my go on to. So, you know, a lot of my friends would work in London that time. And certainly very few of them were actually working in teaching at the time. So, you know, just to have a have a view of what the workplace look like, what what real the real world was like, if you like, what it was like to, to work in a job where you weren’t particularly happy every day.
Was was, I think, probably an important start for me. I’m very lucky because since then, I haven’t had a single day in my whole working life when I hadn’t wanted to go to work. And there’s not very many people can say that.
Lee Stanley 3:55
Yeah, absolutely. So tell us about your your first teaching role.
James Hodgson 4:00
I was teaching classics in Sydney of all places. There are about 50 schools in in Australia where you can teach Latin and Greek. And I managed to find one of them. In fact, they found me really because when I was when I was at Cambridge, studying a PG, CS or handwritten notice on a notice board from a headmaster in Australia, saying he was after a classics teacher, and he actually came to England the following week and interviewed a few people because there were there was nobody studying to be a classics teacher in Australia. And, and I was very lucky I got that got that role had to finish off the PGCE, obviously in England, got married the day before I went out to Australia to an English girl and and we had six years out there and it was incredibly happy. It was it was quite interesting teaching classics in Sydney because the boys absolutely loved it. And we had a an amazing head of classics there who, who they adored but the difficulty was persuading parents that this was a this was a useful subject for their child to be able to study and continue at school. So we had to do a fair bit of defending the classics and trying to promote the classics wherever we possibly could.
Lee Stanley 5:13
And he moulded your early stages of your teaching career
James Hodgson 5:17
Two people I guess, the the man who ran the PTC at Cambridge guy called Bob lyst it was absolutely incredible that he he he was probably the first person who really challenged me in the sense of I don’t I don’t mean that in set intellectually at all, because there’s lots of people who challenge me intellectually but in in the sense of picking me up on small things all the time and telling me it wasn’t good enough. And you know, he would scrutinise every worksheet you ever produce every minute of every lesson he would. He was very. He go into everything in great depth. He’d be incredibly supportive, but but you always had something to come away. And learn and to improve. And so he was, he was a really interesting man to start with. Sandra, who was the head of classics in Sydney was amazing. Incredibly support, she must have wondered what she got to be perfectly honest. I went out there age 25. I looked like a 15 year old. And in my first lesson with 33 boys, it was an all boys school. There was a full on stand up fist fight. And she must have thought who has the headmaster sent me all the way from England. But she was incredibly supportive, really good fun. And she really sought to enjoy every single day that that she had. And that rubbed off on me a lot and rubbed off a lot on the boys. And we had a great time together. We built up a department from really one and a half teachers to about three teachers. By the time we left, there was a lot of demand for it and it was and it was one of the boys favourite subjects I think, brilliant, brilliant, man.
Lee Stanley 6:55
Where did you progress from that?
James Hodgson 6:57
Well, coming back to England, we we had our first Two children over there. So we wanted them to have uncles and aunts and cousins and so on. So we came back. And I wrote down to a number of independent schools in the UK independent largely because local company might come to this a minute, but largely because of the extracurricular they could offer. And, and that was really part of me. And and I ended up at a place called Tunbridge school in Kent had 10 years there and did all sorts of things there. So I taught classics, obviously, but I ran a boarding house for seven years, which I think still is the best job you can get in the hopper. Certainly the independent sector is the best job you can get as a wonderful experience and running the cricket which was fun for me, hopefully fun for them as well. And I read the a bit at the admissions department temporary so I had a lot of broad experience there coached other other other sporting sites as well under various bits and pieces. Run the bottom Half the school for a little while the bottom two year groups and left from there to go to modelling college, Gordon Oxford as their senior deputy head. Did that for three years and then and then came here to Bedford School. And I’ve been been doing this for the last five years. And this is an all boys independent boarding and day. We’ve got 1100 boys from age 7 to 18. And I spent probably most of my time in the top part of the school so 13 to 18 yet I’m also headmaster of the whole school. So the head of the of the junior part reports to me.
Lee Stanley 8:36
Okay, and in terms of the progression into middle management, and when did you realise that that was it was the right time for you to do that?
James Hodgson 8:48
That’s a good question. I’ve never thought about my career. And I think this is one thing. I mean, I would say to to people coming into teaching now you know, don’t don’t get too far ahead of yourself. Because if you’re always looking at the next thing, you’ll never be happy in your current role. And if you if you’re happy in your current role, the chances are it’s going to be doing you’re going to be doing the right sorts of things. So, so try and get as much as you can out of what you’re doing currently. For me, I did, I did want to run a boarding house and that was that was middle management. And I had let the headmaster know that, you know, I was keen to do that when I came back to the UK, and was lucky enough to be able to do that within two or three years. I served as a tutor in a boarding house for those two or three years that kind of an apprenticeship if you like, learning underneath. housemaster called Andrea, she was absolutely excellent. And had seven years doing that. But I then got offered a job running the admissions department which put me on to the management team at Tunbridge school. And that for me that I said I’d only do that if I could stay running the boarding house. So I ended up doing very little teaching as it was their classroom teaching them but for me, that was The that was dipping the toe into senior management and seeing if I wanted to do it or not. And if I didn’t want to do it, I could still withdraw and carry on running the boarding house and do my classics teaching and get out on the sports field.
Lee Stanley 10:11
Sure. And then the progression into into senior leadership. What was the path that you followed there?
James Hodgson 10:18
Well, I think I found that I did enjoy senior leadership at the same time as doing do the other things I was doing in the school. So it was it was probably more mistakes than anything else. I mean, it was a bit of a fluke I applied for I applied, I did apply for three jobs at the same time, and anyway, one of them came up, it’s the one at modelling College School in Oxford. And it just seemed like it seemed like a natural progression. I think I’d had 17 years in a boarding house. So I’d I’d had 10 years at the school. I didn’t want to spend my whole life in one school. I didn’t think that would be Healthy although I having said that I really admire those who do I think it’s I think every school needs a few teachers who stay there for a very long period because it helps keep you It keeps a little bit of knowledge in the institution which you know, of the institution, which is helpful to everybody. But I didn’t want to be one of those. So, so we knew we had to move at some stage and it just felt about right after 10 years or so. Okay.
Lee Stanley 11:26
And then taking the next big step into headship
James Hodgson 11:31
Lee Stanley 11:31
Who moulded who moulded your, your senior leadership experiences.
James Hodgson 11:39
A man called Tim Haynes at Tunbridge school, when I was on his management team. He was the headmaster then he was incredibly supportive and encouraging of me going in that direction. And then at in Oxford, it was a man called Tim hands, who was the head there who had had both of them had about 20 years of headship experience. You know, they were, they were very experienced working for Tim hams as his senior deputy was an absolute privilege and very good fun as well. You laughed every day. But it was also, you also included you in everything that he was going through. So I had a few like full access to what he was going through. So it was with open eyes, although it nevertheless it’s a huge leap.
Lee Stanley 12:31
And in terms of your, your deputy Deputy Assistant experience, and I’ve spoken to previous other head teachers who if they’ve they’ve in their time within senior leadership, they’ve moved around different sort of areas within within school. Is that something that you had experienced? Or Or was it a case of from one deputy roll you then moved into headship?
James Hodgson 12:56
In a sense, I mean running the admissions was quite an important one for me in terms of independent education because it’s highly competitive, you know, you’re competing for what is probably a actually is not a, it’s a it’s not a shrinking market, it’s a market that holds still. But if you don’t compete strongly in it, you’ve you’ve, you’re in trouble because that’s where your income comes from. So working in admissions for three years was incredibly helpful. And then being a senior deputy, you see all sorts of things, you know, effectively the day to day running at the school. So you’re dealing with all sorts, staff members, and you’re picking up a lot of difficult issues which you would be picking up as a head and I have to say, as a head, I haven’t actually seen anything which has surprised me at all. Because of that experience as a deputy as a senior deputy. However, the level of responsibility is greatly heightened and that’s the bit that is very different. Going to get used to.
Lee Stanley 14:02
And in terms of your your biggest sort of learn, or the one bit of advice you would give to any sort of aspiring heads out there. What would that be?
James Hodgson 14:17
I think go into it with your eyes open, get as much training as you can beforehand, and I don’t mean going to courses really I’m only you can get two courses. And I’m sure they’d be very helpful, but actually get as much on the job training as you can. And, and as I did, effectively, some mentors who, who will help you understand what it’s like. But don’t rush it. You know, there are a lot of people who want to be ahead by the time they’re 30 or 35. And, and, and they come and tell me that and I said, Well, that’s great. I said, once you become ahead, what are you get to do for the next 30 years. And when you look at it like that you’ve got a 40 year career. Part of that, I think is being a head. But there are so many other wonderful jobs you can do along the way and so many different pathways, you can take an education, why wouldn’t you spend your time and join those when you can?
Lee Stanley 15:11
Absolutely. Absolutely. And in terms of building your team, your senior leadership team, and what what’s the importance? And how have you have you achieved that?
James Hodgson 15:24
I’ve been really lucky with that. I’ve got a fantastic team actually, very, very motivated, very intelligent, pretty experienced, but also quite ambitious, both of themselves and in school. And actually, I like that, you know, you as a head you don’t necessarily want people are going to sit on your senior team for years and years and see that as their end goal because there’s a risk of staleness and so on, you want new ideas coming in all the time. You want people who are going to be keen to make a difference. In the space of time that they’re with you, and and, and and I’ve got that. So I’ve been, I’ve been very lucky in that regard. So so so recruitment put as much time as you can into recruitment. If you’re not happy with the first round of applicants, then don’t take them. Don’t Don’t compromise on that front. Go back again. And just keep going until you’ve got someone that you feel is right.
Lee Stanley 16:27
Excellent. And what initiatives He currently running in school any any successful and sort of clubs or associations?
James Hodgson 16:36
Yes, quite a lot. Actually. There’s always something going on up. So we had, at the moment, I’ll tell you about three things really, when we had a like most schools are doing at the moment a really good look at what the future of the world of work is going to look like. We’ve got an amazing governing body who’ve had extraordinary careers and all sorts of different fields, but not anybody. Well, one of them. I think went to Education and the rest of them are in different careers. And we thought as a management team, the way they could be most useful to us is by telling us what they felt the future of their world look like. And the sorts of people coming into their businesses, and the attributes that they had to have. And we could extrapolate backwards from that to our seven year olds and say, Well, what what will our seven year olds need in 15 years time to go into that world of work? And we did a lot of reading around this as as anyone would be doing now. And went to a lot of certainly we have speakers in and so on. And we came up with two not very mind blowing things, but they are nevertheless shaping what we’re doing over the next few years. One is that is blatantly obvious that these children are going to be entering a highly technological world. Yeah. And therefore, and that has to knock on has to knock on country consequences for us. The first is that every 18 year old who leaves Here must have a certain level of technological awareness and knowledge, you know, basic level if you like. And so understanding what that means is part of our mission. And secondly, if you’ve got boys who really like and we are, we’re an all boys school, sorry. So if I mentioned boys, you know where I’m coming from. If you’ve got boys who absolutely love technology, how are we going to really let them fly? And because there’s going to be a huge number of opportunities, job opportunities for them in the future, if they are strong on this one. So those so we hired in a Director of Digital Learning about 18 months ago, to look specifically at this area of school life, and we’ve had an absolutely amazing 18 months, I have to say and in terms of letting children fly, I think we’ve we’ve created a whole load of initiatives whereby boys who love this sort of thing can really Shine. And then the flip side of this, or the other side of this whole technology thing is that it’s never is the human side. And so, you know, it’s never been more important to accentuate the wonders of being human, and to lift the qualities that are specifically human. So things like empathy, compassion, creativity, imagination, humour, all of these things are really important for the next generation more important than they’ve ever been before. And we’ve been important. So the other two strands to our next few years involve the human side. One is to do with community engagement. So we’re in a town of Bedford School when we’re on the most magnificent site. If I turn this camera around in a minute, you just see acres of land with rugby pastes up and it’s the most beautiful green, open site with magnificent buildings. A great place for boys to grow up, but it’s not the real world. You know, the real world. is outside these four walls if you like, we’re in a town, we’re lucky enough to be part of it, we have a lot of interactions with the town. But we’re now increasing that significantly, with the idea that all boys who come to school here have have had a meaningful, meaningful relationship in one way or another with, with the world outside our four walls. So we’re creating a whole load of partnerships with local schools, local charities, and so on, that our boys can help become involved in. So that’s the second part. And the third part is we’ve got less of a of a is less prescribed at the moment, but it’s to do with entrepreneurial thinking. So we want to create an environment where boys can not only have ideas, but can then run with them, and actually bring them to fruition. And that that might be might mean running businesses and we’ve had lots of boys who run their own businesses was there at school. In fact, we had a boy he left last year he was earning More than the national average salary by the time he left school, which was pretty cool, I thought he went to university didn’t last long because he didn’t rate it very highly and, and thought he could do better himself and actually so he’s doing absolutely brilliantly, but we want so might involve business but it doesn’t have to involve business. So, if a boy is got a particular passion, and he wants to get a club or a society up and running in get a club or society running up and running, if he wants to build a project around it, and then present it to the entire school, he can present it to the entire school.
So something which which brings, which boys can an environment where boys can just run with things, yeah, and let them let them take off and let them fail frankly, as well as succeed because if you’re going to be an entrepreneur later on in life, or if you need to reinvent yourself several times, which I think is one of the shots of the modern world, you’re going to fail several times you have to be able to so that so that that in a broadly speaking, that’s what What we’re aiming at at the moment,
Lee Stanley 22:02
sounds brilliant. And it’s also like you say, it’s really, really current in terms of the, the trends, the number of of employers that are struggling with, or they’re not sure how to deal with what, obviously everybody refers to as Gen Zed or millennials or whichever because that the way in which they’ve been educated and brought through to being a teen is completely unique. In terms of like you said, things like technology and the access to to the world, really, and with the World Wide Web and what have you. So we will probably see the next Steve Jobs from your school then by the sounds of it.
James Hodgson 22:46
You might you might do you never know but where this particular lad I was talking about might well be one of them. But you see, he’s he’s a good example because he doesn’t need an office anywhere and he doesn’t need a boss. You know, he what he’s doing is, is is on social media and it’s running social media. sites for businesses initially was he was at school he did it for local a lot of the local businesses around here who didn’t know much about social media. Sure. And and he’s now doing it for sort of minor celebrities as well I think and, and, and he’s very good at it and he doesn’t need anybody else for that. And he’s a 21 year old now and he you know, he’s got very good future ahead of him because he’s a great communicator.
Lee Stanley 23:24
Fantastic. Okay. And in terms of outside of work and being ahead, you’ve obviously mentioned you’ve clearly got a love of cricket. So I suppose going to Australia must have been fantastic for you really,
James Hodgson 23:35
it was a great opportunity to drag Australia and cricket away at the grassroots levels. My my first team that I coached one, the first game by miles and by the last game have been bowled out for 42 so I consider that quite an achievement.
Lee Stanley 23:52
And do you still get involved in cricket school?
James Hodgson 23:55
Unfortunately, not very much. To be honest. I’d love to be able to catch crickets And, and teach classics. But I feel like I’m letting people down all the time if I do that part time, because a lot of the time, I just can’t, I can’t get there and someone has to cover and the boys get shortchange. So I go out and support them. I go out and watch them outside, but it’s really hard to get out and do sessions.
Lee Stanley 24:19
Sure, sure. Okay. Well, just a couple of other quick questions, really. So what’s your what’s your current book that you’re reading at the moment?
James Hodgson 24:26
I’ve just finished a book by Cesaro vz, called the beautiful summer and before that, I was reading a book by William William Dalrymple called the holy mountain which I love. I really liked Dalrymple’s writing.
Lee Stanley 24:40
Yep. And which favourite interview question
James Hodgson 24:44
that I asked prospective candidates to me. Yeah, my favourite interview question it was, it was stolen from my previous headmaster who always asked a question about he said, if if you have 24 hours free, unlimited funds, and you could be anywhere Can the world what would you do? And that’s fun because it just taps into people’s passions Really?
Lee Stanley 25:07
And your answer to that question was,
James Hodgson 25:10
I’d go to Calcutta to watching them play a test match against India, Eden gardens, and the reason for that was the last time they had a test there. The fans, there’s 100,000 in a concrete bowl, they set fire to the stadium. Must be quite an amazing atmosphere. Anyway, he enjoyed that because I think he was trying to prove sport at the school at the time.
Lee Stanley 25:30
So, um, what about holidays? Where’s your favourite holiday destination?
James Hodgson 25:36
I love going back to Sydney. I’ve got a daughter in Sydney now and I’ve got two brothers in Sydney now. So I like going back there. It’s a great place. I love Australia. In fact, we went to Israel last year, that was an amazing place to go every square metre of that territory has extraordinary history or current politics. And that was that was brilliant,
Lee Stanley 25:58
brilliant and in terms of Work, what’s your favourite app?
James Hodgson 26:03
I don’t have one. I’m very bad myself having talked about technology. I’ve got a lot of people around me and I’m very In fact, this is a good thing to learn about headship I think you don’t have to be an expert in everything to be ahead. In fact, in fact, you awful Oh, it sounds you probably don’t have to be an expert in very much. As long as you’ve got the ability to create an atmosphere around you whereby the experts themselves can flourish and have a head and, and and can pull together in the same direction. So I’m really bad at technology. I you know, having taught classics all my life, that probably gives you a fair idea of what I’m like. But we’ve got some brilliant people around me who keep me involved on that sort of thing. So asked me what my how I how I go on social media. I’m not so good on that either.
Lee Stanley 26:52
I’m sure Mandy, you’ll be able to help you with that.
James Hodgson 26:54
She sent me Well, she does all the time. She’s brilliant. Yeah.
Lee Stanley 26:57
And if you weren’t a teacher, what would You have been?
James Hodgson 27:01
Well, I’d like to play cricket. But I don’t think I’d have been good enough for that. I think I think the short answer to that is I’d have been a lot more miserable than I am now.
Lee Stanley 27:10
And who’s been the biggest influence in terms of your, your life?
James Hodgson 27:16
My wife, definitely.
Who’s, who’s been incredible and has put up with my jobs moving geographically, quite, quite regularly, but also is I told you about the PGCE teacher who was who was constantly challenging, she’s constantly challenging what to do, but in a very good way. Not a bad way. And she’s got a lot of experience in in her backgrounds marketing, and she’s been in schools marketing as well. So she’s got a lot of experience which is helpful in a career from a career perspective, but also she’s been amazing as well.
Lee Stanley 27:54
And you’ve mentioned quite a few influences in your in your teaching career. But if you were to pick one out Who would you said being that like the main influencer?
James Hodgson 28:08
I really don’t think I can pick one actually. There have been so many people and to be honest, if you and now even now, you know, I’m learning from I’m learning from lots of different people now, including most of my own staff. So if you if you go into a day where you think you can’t learn something new, then then you’re struggling. And actually, that’s one of the lovely things about being in an environment like this, because you’ve got you’re surrounded by so many great people.
Lee Stanley 28:35
Excellent. And if people need to or want to get in touch with you, what’s the best way for them to do that?
James Hodgson 28:41
Probably to email a school or to Bedford School or to phone Bedford School and just asked to be put through to my pa who is amazing to have that in my life online.
Lee Stanley 28:55
Yeah, and what I will do as well for the links and whatnot. I’ll put the some of the school social media within the video. So there’ll be links and pop ups and what have you at the end and people can connect and, and have a look at themselves as well.
James Hodgson 29:13
So be really helpful like this. There’s one thing on there actually, you might see on the website, there’s a YouTube channel, yes, but a school and at the moment, this is a school that goes in very heavily for Movember. And the boys if they want to allowed to grow a moustache is about 60 or 70 of them doing that the staff are allowed to grow moustache. Were regularly the top school fundraiser in the country for this. So we raised over 10,000 pounds for charity, and Movember charity. But much more importantly, the boys aim to the older boys aim to educate the younger boys and also in fact, people outside the school on men’s physical and mental health. So today, for instance, we’ve got one of our citizenships days we don’t do PSHC on a weekly timetable, we collapse the whole time table five days a year. Okay. So I’m a member citizenship day is all about men’s mental health and mental physical health and the older boys run lessons with the younger boys. And we get various keynote speakers in and so on to build that brand. So I’m back to go back to that in a second. But they put together a video. And there’s a video each year and a couple of years ago, it went viral over the weekend, we had about 200,000 views in two days. So I would draw whoever’s interested in it their attention to Movember at Bedford School. That’s quite an occasion.
Lee Stanley 30:30
Well, what we can do we can link to that as well. And like you say, people can have a look for themselves on there, but it sounds like a fantastic cause.
James Hodgson 30:38
It’s a it’s a great quote, especially in an all boys school, obviously. It’s a great course.
Lee Stanley 30:41
Yeah. Brilliant. Well, thank you ever so much for your time. I really appreciate you sharing your experiences and your learns along the way. And I look forward to looking at the YouTube video that I’m going to click on now.
James Hodgson 30:56
Nice speak to you. Thanks very much.
Lee Stanley 30:58
James Hodgson 30:58